As the reactions reverberate in the wake of Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly being fired Tuesday night, the “who’s next?” ripples wash over myriad other coaches of teams wobbling through hugely disappointing seasons.
One of those has been Jim Caldwell, who turned the erratic Detroit Lions of the Jim Schwartz tenure into an 11-5 playoff team last year, including a 5-1 blitz of the NFC North marred only by a Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
But after a 1-7 start to 2015 — the only win coming via overtime against the Bears back on Oct. 18, making him 3-0 against Chicago — Caldwell has taken the Lions on a 5-2 stretch that included a win in Green Bay.
“It's never easy,” Caldwell said on Wednesday. “There's all kinds of things going on around you, but our guys, we have the right kind of people. They focus in on the things that matter. They didn't listen to the things that don't matter and we just tried to find a way to get better every day. They're guys that are intrinsically motivated, they're guys that love to compete, they're guys that love one another and have a great respect for one another so they certainly have a lot of pride in what we do and thy just kept working, kept their nose to the grindstone and we found a way to get better every week.”
Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford laid out exactly that back when she fired team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew in early November. And one distinguished observer of the Lions does not see Caldwell following his bosses out of Detroit at year-end.
Mike O’Hara, the dean of Detroit Lions writers and now with DetroitLions.com, broke down both Caldwell’s brief tenure (2014-present) and the Lions over an extended period.
O’Hara breaks down seasons into half-seasons; Caldwell is finishing his fourth, in which the Lions will be either 5-3 or 6-2 depending on Sunday’s outcome. Of Caldwell’s four “halves,” he has had three good ones. Three out of four.
From 2001-2013, the Lions had exactly three winning “halves” in 13 years under four different coaches — Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Rod Marinelli, Schwartz.
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Given that the Bears have not beaten a Caldwell Lions team, his remaining in place is not necessarily a good thing. A neither is a team that likes and plays hard for its coach, which characterizes the Lions.
“Coach has our utmost respect,” said wide receiver Calvin Johnson. “We respect him a ton. He doesn’t have to do much in order to have you playing hard for him.
“He’s the kind of guy that players want to go out and give their all for. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the results we wanted. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to go out and bust our butt to put a win on the board.”